Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Time to Have That Conversation with Yourself
And forget the regrets. This is the time of year when you need to step back for a moment, get focused on the future, and figure out what your customers want.
Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology
As the year draws to a close, it's a good chance to catch your breath and spend a few hours just thinking--and not doing anything but thinking--about the year ahead and where you want to take your business. If you don't have a plan, or really care where you're headed, then any path will get you there. In that case, just make sure that you're walking down a path and not a plank.
But the smart entrepreneur knows that even the most rapidly reactive organizations can't keep up with the rapid and accelerating rate of change today - where each change shortens the interval between changes - and the next abrupt shift is on top of you before you've even dealt with the last. So, you've got to get ahead of the curve, anticipate the action, and skate to where the puck is headed. Trying to catch the train after it's left the station is a loser's game.
I'm not talking about some foolish New Year's diet resolutions or your desire to definitely get in great shape this winter; to read a book a week and clean out the attic; or simply to be a much better person in 2019. I mean thinking strategically about how you can make the next 12 months a lot more valuable and productive for your company.
Not enough entrepreneurs do this simple exercise. We've all got plenty of explanations and excuses for why this is and, as a result, too many lose sight of the critical things they should be doing and the most important questions they should be asking: Why did I get into this business in the first place? Am I doing any good and/or making any difference that matters in the long run? Does anyone outside of my friends, family, investors, and employees care about what we're doing? Here are a few hints to get that conversation with yourself going:
1) DON'T DWELL ON THE PAST
While you are thinking ahead, I wouldn't waste much time reflecting on the past 12 months since: a) there's nothing you can really do about them; b) you ought to already know what you did right and wrong-- and hopefully have learned a lot from the experience; and c) fretting over mistakes and missed opportunities doesn't really move anything forward. You can't build your future on regrets and "shouldas, wouldas, and couldas."
Besides, looking in the rear view mirror is distracting. It makes it easy to run off the road or smack into something big and ugly that could have been easily avoided if you had been looking ahead. That involves paying attention to the outside world and, even more important, to what your customers are doing and saying about their own pressing needs and their current desires. Customer expectations are progressive. If you're not on top of these needs, you'll soon be at the bottom of your customers' lists.
And the most important reason that you don't want to get all wrapped up in analyzing the past is that doing so is almost always an invitation to spend your time navel gazing, making excuses, and bemoaning the bad breaks. And that's not where you need to be focusing your energy as you try to get your business set for the New Year.
2) FIND OUT WHAT CUSTOMERS ARE GOING TO WANT
You need to get out there and uncover what's going on outside the four walls of your business, because that's where your future will be found. Remember, you will never get straighter or more useful answers to your questions than the ones you get directly from your customers. The truth -- with all its wonders and warts -- comes from the consumers and the users of your products and services. They don't have an agenda (apart from always wanting a lot more for a lot less), and they're the real reason you got into this business to begin with. Pleasing them and addressing their needs seems like the obvious thing to do. But it doesn't happen if you don't do it. When you take the time to look, think, and ask, you might just discover that there's a bigger and better opportunity right under your nose that you've been practically tripping over for months or years without ever noticing.
3) FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
If you're ready to take the plunge, here are a few of the main questions to ask yourself. It's a pretty simple process, but, as you'll see, the results can be game-changing.
1. What's the problem you initially set out to solve?
2. Are you trying to solve the same problem today or doing something different?
3. Is the problem still important to your customers and worth their paying you to solve?
4. Are others offering cheaper, quicker, or easier solutions to the problem?
5. Are there new, more important, or different problems to be solved?
You'll notice that all of these questions address the customers' problem(s) and not your products or solutions. This isn't just a question of semantics. If you don't understand the pressing problems of your customers, you have no chance at all of building a successful product or service to solve them. You can keep building the greatest software never sold or discovering the cure for no known disease, but you won't be building a business that will be here at the end of next year.
PUBLISHED ON: DEC 11, 2018
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
At Illinois Tech, energy innovation and entrepreneurship have new home
WRITTEN BY Kevin Stark 6 hours ago
Steve Hall / Hall & Merrick
With a collaborative approach, the center’s leader aims to foster the development of ambitious clean energy solutions.
Illinois Institute of Technology opened the doors to a 70,000-square-foot, $37 million innovation center last month that will be home to ambitious industrial collaborations, where engineering students will partner with faculty and businesses to collaborate on big-picture ideas — from electric cars and grid management to the internet of things.
Leading the project is Howard Tullman, Chicago’s serial entrepreneur and longtime leader of 1871, another innovation center. He said that some of the highest priorities for the collaborative projects will be around the development of clean energy technology.
“We think that this center is a place to generate new ideas in the energy field and combine the students, the faculty, and industry,” Tullman said. “We think that the desire to support some of these things is out there in industry.”
‘We think that this center is a place to generate new ideas in the energy field and combine the students, the faculty, and industry.’
The Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship is a futuristic building wrapped in several layers of an innovative material that help control how much energy is used and manage sunlight into the center.
In the past, Tullman has said that the school will be training people for careers that don’t yet exist, using technology that will be invented on the new campus. But what are some of the problems keyed up to solve?
Tullman said one is finding a clean solution for the so-called last-mile problem — the short trip from the subway or bus station to the pharmacy or grocery store. Tullman is looking for “a zero-carbon footprint to move people to hospital appointments and back, and to do all these last-mile things,” he said.
It’s a local problem for IIT and the surrounding community. In August, the Chicago Transit Authority announced that it was ending a bus pilot along 31st Street, a route that serviced a small group of students and seniors. Tullman believes that 31st Street could be an ideal testing area for autonomous electric vans.
“They would serve our students and our campus and connect the Metra and the CTA to larger parts of the Bronzeville community,” he said. “My interest is in these transportation solutions. But separately, we’re also looking at how do we generate and share excess capacity that we will have on campus with the rest of the Bronzeville grid.”
Tullman also wants to continue to develop solar generation around campus. IIT has solar panels on campus already, and Tullman said solar production will continue to grow. “The whole Kaplan roof, which is flat — I am lobbying for deployment of additional solar panels up there.”
Clean energy entrepreneurship
IIT, a private university focused on technology, has long been considered a top school for engineering, design, and science training — but it hasn’t built a new academic building in about 40 years. So why now?
One reason: money and resources are being quickly spent on a clean energy renaissance in Illinois. In 2016, the legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Act with the goal of procuring 666 megawatts of community and distributed solar. In April, the Illinois Power Agency detailed a plan to acquire 25 percent of state energy from renewables by 2025.
These targets signal that Illinois is fertile ground for innovative startups, and Tullman wants Kaplan students to be leading these companies. IIT students will now be trained in executive-level management skills on top of the technical and engineering skills. “There’s no central venue where students come to be instructed in tomorrow skills — whether it’s iteration, problem-solving, the process of design thinking — and we want that to be Kaplan’s signature, a place where these interdisciplinary problems can also be addressed,” Tullman said.
The goal of instruction at Kaplan is to train students to innovate and to become leading entrepreneurs. “We’re not going to solve a lot of the problems that have accumulated by doing things the same way we always have,” Tullman said.
‘We’re not going to solve a lot of the problems that have accumulated by doing things the same way we always have.’
The school is pumping a lot of oxygen into its professional partnerships, a key component of new academic programming meant to train the next generation of leaders; many who will be focused on developing a cleaner and smarter energy grid.
Alumni over the past decade have left IIT earning more than graduates of comparable schools in the region like Northwestern University and Notre Dame. “But years out, they cap out because they’re not seen as executive-level talent,” Tullman said. “They’re seen as great coders, great scientists, or whatever. But if you look at the world history of business, the single most prominent sort of undergraduate degree of CEOs across the country is in engineering. We’re sort of missing out on something which means we aren’t giving our graduates the total package that lets them aspire to these executive jobs.”
The business community is already working with Kaplan students on interdisciplinary projects, which Tullman said are filling a need for long-term, off-balance sheet research and development.
Typically, research and development project managers must report quarterly to a company’s leadership team, and the pressure to make money can be a deterrent to working on big problems that aren’t easily solved. Engineering new technology will be at the heart of solving these problems — to a much greater extent than it has been in the past, he said.
Location helps too: IIT is located in Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside that is home to a burgeoning clean technology hub. Here, clean energy projects are abundant, including the first utility-scale clustered microgrid, which is being developed by IIT and ComEd, the largest utility in Illinois; and a sun-tracking “smartflower” at the Renaissance Collaborative, an affordable housing center.
“Companies don’t have an appetite for hiring people to pursue some of these things,” Tullman said. “But the projects here aren’t under such intense profit and loss pressure. I think that you’re going to see a lot of projects spawned in this environment, which is a little more hospitable to the kinds of time frames that these solutions are going to take. Every 90 days somebody isn’t saying: ‘have we struck gold yet?’”
Already, 100 graduate students are working from the Kaplan Center; the graduate design program moved in last month. Tullman said the interdisciplinary projects are beginning. The building will be fully operational in January.
Inside the Kaplan Institute
The new innovation hub at Illinois Tech promises to be a place where “students learn to be the creators, inventors, and entrepreneurs of the future.”
WATCH THE VIDEO: https://youtu.be/wlhyel7pw3k
Tuesday, December 04, 2018
These Losses Really Hurt
Remember to be grateful for what you've got--and let someone know that. Entrepreneurs can be very bad at saying thank you to the people who mattered. Do it while they're still here.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for me, with a wrenching series of the unexpected deaths of friends--all entrepreneurs and/or educators in their own way--aged mid-50s to mid-90s. Several died abruptly without the slightest indication of illness--brutal bolts from the blue. Others left us at a time when we earnestly believed that they were in the midst of bouncing back and regaining their strength. So much the sadder given the immense struggles that preceded their demises.
These are frightening episodes for those of us of a certain age because they are the most immediate and stark reminders of our own mortality. Whatever anyone else tells you, these painful passings are never expected or easy, in terms of being prepared for the event, ready for the surprising and palpable pain, or able to deal with the sinking sense of loss. Nor do we exactly understand the mixed feelings of relief that we experience in some morbid fashion on the putative behalf of the deceased. Every death, by definition, is unfairly premature and always comes too soon. This is never about getting over such things; just a matter of trying to successfully muddle through them with some semblance of grace and respect. The pain may eventually lessen and the scars start to heal, but the wound remains forever.
But in those first and early moments of the searing knowledge-=before the procedures and the protocols kick in, before life resumes and the rush of essential events takes over and moves things along with an irresistible (and grudgingly welcome) force of their own--you have a brief window of reflection. You realize that, while death may end a life, it doesn't extinguish the long history, the many mixed emotions, the complex connections, and the underlying relationships that were a part of your life together and which withstood the many trials and tribulations of time.
And, if you permit yourself, your exploration often extends beyond the immediate losses of certain individuals to recall and remember (and perhaps cerebrally celebrate) others who are also no longer a prominent presence in your life, but to whom you owe much. I've written that entrepreneurs are , but there seems to me to be an even deeper deficiency. It's not enough to thank our employees and our investors and random others, if we don't also remember to reach out to thank the critical contributors who were steadfastly there at the start.
At our business schools, we regularly debate the "nature versus nurture" controversy, essentially discussing and destined to pursue new ventures, or whether anyone with an interest (and hopefully some measure of passion) can be taught the critical skills for startup success. I'm firmly in the "it's in your genes"" camp, except that I don't really think that heredity explains everything or that entrepreneurs themselves give enough credit to the critical importance of the roles played by their parents, professors, mentors and, to a much lesser extent, their peers.
And, by the way, I don't mean to suggest that the role and the impact of these other parties is necessarily a positive influence or a supportive one--just that it's often a very powerful one that is under-appreciated and only occasionally acknowledged. Everyone you encounter on the journey teaches you something--some are good examples and role models and others are important warnings about what not to be or do. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes no more than a passing breeze, and sometimes a boot.
But for so many entrepreneurs, the real start and the best part of the journey was when they were kids at home. Home, where they have to take you in, home, where the support and love is unconditional, and home where many of the essential habits, attitudes, and values are initially built, regularly reinforced and eventually absorbed. Who doesn't have half a dozen mottos, slogans or aphorisms burnt into their brain from Mom or Dad? These aren't just pithy phrases or clichés. It turns out that they're pretty important life lessons. And, although GEICO's ads make light of it, maybe turning into our parents in some ways isn't the worst thing that could happen. After all, they raised us and we turned out pretty well, so how bad could they have been?
So, it's worth a moment from time to time, especially if you still have a chance to say it to their faces before they're gone, to think about and thank your parents for their patience and thick skins, their perseverance at times when you were clearly a lost cause, and their persistent part in your eventual and plentiful successes. No time like the present and never too soon or too often. Don't wait for a fire or a funeral and, for sure, don't wait until it's too late.
After all, they're the ones who taught us that it's not the tears and sadness, but the desire and the determination to move forward that ultimately makes the pain of loss bearable. So, find an opportunity over the holidays and make it a moment of celebration and not sadness.
As the Boss says in : "Well tonight I'm takin' requests here in the kitchen. This one's for you, ma, let me come right out and say it. It's overdue, but baby, if you're looking for a sad song, well I ain't gonna play it."
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